I read Hanoch Bartov's latest book, Across the Horizon, Across the Street, through a veil of tears. After having read so many books about the murder of Europe's Jews, after visiting the death camps and participating in the March of the Living, after having spoken to so many survivors and hearing their stories, I thought I had no more tears left to cry. But when I read the story of the Rabinowitz-Elhanan family of Kovno, Lithuania, the tears burst forth anew.
If Bartov had written the very same book as fiction, critics would say that the plot was unreasonably improbable and far-fetched. But the book is documentary and is based on documents and letters written and sent by family members, a family that was miraculously saved and reunited in Israel with its two sons who had arrived here from Kovno two years earlier, and had become fullfledged Israelis. There are thousands of families like this one among us but very few of them kept written documentation, as did the Rabinowitz family. The Rabinowitzes were a Zionist, Hebrew-speaking family; the children subscribed to the Hebrew-language Davar Layeladim, and the youngest son, who remained in the hell that Kovno became, was planning to study in the Kadoorie Agricultural School, and was forced to cultivate a vegetable garden in a tiny patch so as not to starve to death. When he eventually made it to Israel, he immediately integrated into Israeli society. The entire family took part in the War of Independence, in which it lost a son in the battles of 1948.
THE BOOK is riveting, but also important, because it provides a factual counterweight to the lying propaganda currently coming out of the media and academe.
Bartov refutes two lies: One is the distinction between the new Jews here and the Diaspora Jews over there. He makes it abundantly clear that it is only chance that we were not there in their place and they here in ours. It is pure luck that we were not fenced in ghettos as they were, were not humiliated, beaten, starved to death, that we did not stand in rows in freezing cold, that our children were not murdered in Aktionen, that we were not led like slaves on the March of Death, that we were not shot, burned, asphyxiated with gas, that we were not forced to dig the pits into which we would be thrown after being murdered.
And when I say we, I am of course not referring only to those of European extraction among us. Only chance, following the invasion of the Allies into North Africa, saved the Jews of Meknes from having to experience the tribulations of the Jews of Kovno. The extermination process had already begun in Libya and forced-labor camps for Jews were established in Tunis. It was a miracle that Eretz Yisrael/Palestine was saved from German occupation, and the Jewish population of pre-state Israel not massacred by the SS with the help of the Nazi Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. Only by chance were we saved.
And the second lie refuted by Bartov relates to the fashionable claim according to which it was the Palestinians who paid the price of the extermination of Europe's Jews, because Israel was established as expiation for this murder. True, most members of the United Nations were deeply affected by the Holocaust and by the distress suffered by the displaced Jews in Europe.
Indeed, if the UN had forced or at least enforced its resolution to establish the state, it might be possible to draw a connection between the Holocaust and Israel's establishment. But the UN decision was undermined by the invasion of Arab armies into the nascent State of Israel. The UN sat on the sidelines. The struggle was waged solely by the members of the tiny Jewish community, and only thanks to the courage of the poorly armed and equipped few did the state indeed come into being. If a third of our people had not been murdered during the Holocaust, the strength of the Jewish community in pre-state Israel would have been that much stronger and the victory in 1948 that much swifter.
The murder of the Jews of Europe almost caused the destruction of the remaining Jewish community in their state, to say nothing of the countless geniuses that would have empowered Israel had they not been murdered over there. Supreme Court President Aharon Barak's mother smuggled him out of the Kovno ghetto as a small child. But many thousands of children like him were slaughtered. How many Aharon Baraks did we lose? How many industrialists and artists? The argument that without the Holocaust the state would never have been established ignores the vast reserve of Hebrew-speaking Zionists who wanted to come here and settle in Israel and fight for its survival. The Palestinians are not the ones paying the price of the Holocaust. They are paying the price of their own madness and we are paying a twofold price for the Holocaust - both there and here.
The writer is president of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. Across the Horizon, Across the Street has not been released in English.